ABPI code updated with first social media guidance

Hilversum, The Netherlands - April 03, 2014. Image of a touch screen Android phone with social media apps.

Guidance on the way pharma companies communicate about prescription medicines has been updated in the UK to cover use of social media channels for the first time.

The document from the Prescription Medicines Code of Practice Authority (PMCPA) arrives in the wake of several cases where drugmakers made promotional statements on social media platforms – including LinkedIn and Instagram – that were deemed to have breached the code of practice laid down by the Association of British Pharmaceutical Industry (APBI).

The PMCPA is the independent body which administers the ABPI code, which covers the promotion of prescription medicines to UK health professionals and other relevant decision-makers, as well as information that can be communicated to the public. It has drawn up the guidance with the help of the companies, the ABPI, and UK regulator the MHRA.

Complaints upheld by the PMCPA last year included two against AstraZeneca and Allergan, where the posting and/or 'liking' of social media updates was considered to be promotional, even when the original update was posted outside the UK.

The guide (PDF) now makes this provision explicitly clear: "If a UK-based or UK company employee interacts/engages with a post such as 'liking' the post, which would typically result in it being disseminated to their connections/followers or appearing in the employee's posts or social news feed, then it would likely be subject to the ABPI Code," it says.

The document covers both companies' use of corporate social media channels and employees' personal use of those channels, as well as the use of social media in situations such as clinical trial recruitment, patient support, working with influencers, job advertising, and announcing product or pipeline milestones.

It includes examples of the appropriate use of social media in those settings – for example how paid display advertising could be used on Facebook or Twitter for a disease awareness campaign.

Sections also deal with the use of links and hashtags, and explain the differences between signposting and posting and sharing versus re-sharing.

"We recognise that social media can pose particular challenges for companies under the ABPI Code," said PMCA director Alex Fell. "With its wide reach and international audience, information on medicines can be seen by audiences it wasn't intended for."

To help communicate the new guidance, the PMCPA is planning to run two webinars next month for companies and media organisations, on 9 February and 21 February.

26 January, 2023